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The Richmond Rail effect

Last month, I asked the question whether or not John Culberson’s vehement anti-Richmond rail stance would help him in the precincts that immediately surround the affected stretch of Richmond Ave. The question came up again in the cover story that the Houston Press wrote about Culberson’s opponent, Jim Henley:

One problem for Henley — well, one problem beyond the fact the district is gerrymandered for a Republican — is the inner-loop neighborhoods along Richmond. Usually they could be relied on for some Democratic support, but they are mightily pissed at Metro for trying to build a light-rail line through their neighborhoods. Culberson has made clear he agrees with them, and if reelected he’d be a formidable ally for the residents. (Although perhaps not as formidable as in the past, if Democrats take control of the House.)

Well, at long last the precinct data is in, and the answer is clear. First, let’s review what we observed in 2004, when Culberson easily defeated John Martinez, who ran a low profile campaign.

Pcnct Ballots Culb Pct Mrtnez Pct C/M Pct M/C Pct =============================================================== 39 1809 473 26.15% 1187 65.62% 28.49% 71.51% 60 1625 422 25.97% 1027 63.20% 29.12% 70.88% 123 866 236 27.25% 544 62.82% 30.26% 69.74% 139 1688 773 45.79% 767 45.44% 50.19% 49.81% 177 1024 635 62.01% 310 30.27% 67.20% 32.80% 178 1346 905 67.24% 328 24.37% 73.40% 26.60% 233 1597 837 52.41% 610 38.20% 57.84% 42.16% 569 1791 1065 59.46% 685 38.25% 60.86% 39.14% 802 237 46 19.41% 162 68.35% 22.12% 77.88% Total 11983 5392 45.00% 5620 46.90% 48.96% 51.04%

“Pct” refers to the percent of the total ballot, which includes undervotes and votes for the Libertarian candidate. “C/M Pct” and “M/C Pct” are the straight-up Culberson versus Martinez percentages. As noted before, Culberson was weak in Montrose (precincts 39, 60, 123, and 802), strong in Afton Oaks (precincts 177, 178, and 569, which is just outside the Loop and wasn’t examined last time), and modestly successful in Greenway Plaza (precincts 139 and 233). Overall, Martinez won the vote here, but not by a lot.

Now let’s look at 2006 and see how Culberson fared against Henley and with the rail issue at the forefront in these areas:

Pcnct Ballots Culb Pct Henley Pct C/H Pct H/C Pct =============================================================== 39 1273 246 19.32% 958 75.26% 20.43% 79.57% 60 1050 202 19.24% 790 75.24% 20.36% 79.64% 123 513 117 22.81% 364 70.96% 24.32% 75.68% 139 1061 423 39.87% 564 53.16% 42.86% 57.14% 177 658 403 61.25% 237 36.02% 62.97% 37.03% 178 968 697 72.00% 231 23.86% 75.11% 24.89% 233 1583 791 49.97% 696 43.97% 53.19% 46.81% 569 1076 556 51.67% 454 42.19% 55.05% 44.95% 802 205 42 20.49% 149 72.68% 21.99% 78.01% Total 8387 3477 41.46% 4443 52.97% 43.90% 56.10%

As you can see, with the exception of one of the Afton Oaks precincts, Culberson lost ground everywhere along Richmond Avenue. Henley won a majority of the total vote, and had a twelve point lead in the head to head matchup. Where Culberson had carried Greenway Plaza by 233 votes and won both of its precincts, he now lost precinct 139 and trailed overall by 46 votes. Precinct 233, which had almost identical turnout to 2004, saw a 132 vote swing away from Culberson. Any way you look at it, the answer is loud and clear: Being anti-Richmond rail did not help John Culberson in the neighborhoods that would be affected by Richmond Rail.

Christof provides a nice graphic of the area and the relative vote totals, and reminds us that Culberson based his opposition to Richmond rail on “public opinion”, which he said was against Richmond rail. One can only conclude from looking at the data that Culberson is wrong about this. The people spoke (again!), and John Culberson did not speak for them.

There was another race in this area for which Richmond rail was an issue: the HD134 race between Martha Wong and Ellen Cohen. Wong was also a public opponent of rail on Richmond. How’d that work out for her? Here’s the 2004 matchup against Democrat Jim Daugherty:

Pcnct Ballots Wong Pct Dghrty Pct W/D Pct D/W Pct =============================================================== 39 1809 475 26.26% 1208 66.78% 28.22% 71.78% 60 1625 425 26.15% 1058 65.11% 28.66% 71.34% 139 1688 755 44.73% 800 47.39% 48.55% 51.45% 177 1024 621 60.64% 336 32.81% 64.89% 35.11% 178 1346 859 63.82% 411 30.53% 67.64% 32.36% 233 1597 830 51.97% 663 41.52% 55.59% 44.41% 802 237 46 19.41% 164 69.20% 21.90% 78.10% Total 9326 4011 43.01% 4640 49.75% 46.36% 53.64%

Precincts 123 (Montrose) and 569 (Afton Oaks outside Loop 610) are not in HD134. As with Culberson, Wong lost Montrose big, won Afton Oaks easily, and ran slightly ahead in Greenway Plaza, though she only won one of its two precincts. And for 2006, against Ellen Cohen?

Pcnct Ballots Wong Pct Cohen Pct W/C Pct C/W Pct =============================================================== 39 1273 235 18.46% 986 77.45% 19.25% 80.75% 60 1050 203 19.33% 798 76.00% 20.28% 79.72% 139 1061 359 33.84% 655 61.73% 35.40% 64.60% 177 658 381 57.90% 264 40.12% 59.07% 40.93% 178 968 611 63.12% 311 32.13% 66.27% 33.73% 233 1583 721 45.55% 794 50.16% 47.59% 52.41% 802 205 45 21.95% 145 70.73% 23.68% 76.32% Total 6798 2555 37.58% 3953 58.15% 39.26% 60.74%

A total rout, even bigger than Henley/Culberson. Wong got creamed in Montrose, thanks in part to the HGLBTPC blockwalking effort, lost both Greenway Plaza precincts, and even slipped in Afton Oaks. Whatever the effect was in the Henley/Culberson race, it was magnified here.

Bottom line, plain and simple: Opposing rail on Richmond is not a winning issue in the neighborhoods that will be affected by rail on Richmond. The people who live there do not vote for anti-Richmond rail candidates. Say it loud, and say it often.

UPDATE: Since I posted this, Christof pointed out to me that strictly speaking, only Precinct 178 is Afton Oaks. Precincts 177 and 569 cover the similar but not the same areas of Lynn Park, Highland Village, St. George’s Place, and others. Unlike Afton Oaks, the Lynn Park and Highland Village civic clubs are neutral on Richmond rail, while the president of the St. George’s Place club is actively campaigning for it. If nothing else, this explains why only precinct 178 showed any improvement for Culberson. My apologies for any confusion.

UPDATE: Here’s a similar graphic for Martha Wong and HD134, from Christof.

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  1. Kenneth Fair says:

    Thanks for this detailed analysis. I suspect the Richmond Rail effect goes beyond voting patterns as well. I don’t live on Richmond and won’t be affected by rail construction, but I am likely to be a rail user in that area, and I want a rail line that best serves the area. Christof’s arguments have me more than convinced Richmond is the way to go, at least through Greenway Plaza. (I’m agnostic on crossing over to Westpark after Greenway Plaza, but I’d probably prefer a straighter shot to the Galleria.)

    Even though I’m not in their districts, I supported and gave money to both Jim Henley and Ellen Cohen, specifically because of this issue. I’d be willing to bet both were able to drum up funds and buzz from the rail controversy that they would not otherwise have received.

  2. Jim Henley says:

    Charles, thanks to you and Christof for the analysis of the Richmond corridor vote in CD-7. I live in the Castle Court neighborhood off Richmond and I knew that Culberson’s position would cost him votes here. It is time for the city to proceed with the University line. Jim Henley

  3. RWB says:

    I live on Richmond and support rail there (although I am very mindful of the disruption for businesses on Richmond–and it would break my heart if, for example, the Lucky Burger went under because of decreased access during rail construction).

    In my neighborhood, one can see many signs on Richmond opposing rail. But as soon as you go just one block away from Richmond, north or south, the green pro-rail signs predominate.

    Obviously this is highly unscientific (in contrast to your analysis), but it had already convinced me that in my Richmond-straddling neighborhood at least, rail on Richmond was more supported than opposed.

  4. Robert’s point about the location of the signs certainly bolsters my original thoughts about rail on Richmond: those directly on Richmond (which are mostly businesses) are strongly opposed, while the residents (usually in the blocks just north and south of Richmond) are strongly in favor of rail.

    The reason is simple: a resident that is near Richmond doesn’t necessarily RELY on Richmond to get around. Thanks to West Alabama and Westheimer, it’s not that difficult to survive without Richmond, even for a year or two.

    A business on Richmond, however, doesn’t that that luxury. If people (like the residents nearby) avoid Richmond, the business goes under.

    Culberson’s continued opposition to rail, even in the face of residential support of rail, shouldn’t surprise anyone in this case. I’m willing to bet that Culberson would side with a few business owners over thousands of residents, so long as he can counterbalance his stance with the anti-rail voters in the rest of his district.

    What interests me more, however, is the effect that Democratic control over the House will have on federal funding for rail. Has Culberson lost the clout he needed in order to continue blocking funding? Or will the Democratic leadership still defer to him simply because parts of his district are involved? I honestly don’t know, but I’m afraid that the latter possibility is more likely.

  5. Bob says:

    As someone who lives one block off Richmond near Shepherd, the analysis does not surprise me. The only anti-rail signs are business directly on Richmond. If you go back a block off Richmond, all you will see are pro-rail signs.

    I am not really sure what the end result will be. I think there will be a decision in March.

    There is a pro-rail group who is actively trying to sway some of the businesses to support rail on Richmond. Recently, they have been meeting at different restaurants every Tuesday night. I have been out of town, the last month, does any know whether or not they have been successful in convincing some of the businesses to change their position.

    I take the same position as Kenneth in that I think having the line go down Richmond to Greeway Plaza is an acceptable arrangement.